Our Investment in Zora

a community-owned marketplace for creators

steve jang
Oct 20, 2020 · 5 min read

Looking around the Internet, one can see glimpses of a shift happening at the edges of creative culture, and now in the center. While we’ve been personalized and served by algorithm for decades, there has been a surging undercurrent of taste and preference toward goods and art created with imagination and authenticity, crafted by humans. Call it by any number of names: moments, drops, limited editions, experiences, collectibles, remix/edits, or provenance — we gravitate increasingly toward these artifacts as we look for cultural signal within the noise. In current times, social platforms, marketplaces, and media all play together and thrive in their own cacophony, but still the creators and their communities somehow seem less empowered in this equation and still dissatisfied. If the root of culture is in shared learning, customs, and expression, then the progression of the culture’s craft and economy cultivates and grows it.

the creator > the broker

Today, online marketplaces are designed and built to re-trade these carefully crafted imprints and artifacts of culture with little return of value to the original creator. The giant bazaars of the Internet which transact $1.5 trillion of gross merchandise value annually still value and benefit the broker much more than the creator. Though the attention has never shined more brightly on discovering the creator, the system of distribution and exchange lags far behind and still operates in the dark ages. What would help push The Culture forward equitably and sustainably, rather than just promote transient markets which are disingenuous and recyclable?

this artwork by one of my favorite designers, Estefania Loret De Mola, captures Zora’s essential mission

When Zora was conceived, it was borne out of a side project experiment to create a fashion label, decentralized and autonomous. When I first met Jacob Horne, he was a product manager at Coinbase, and a passionate and insightful thinker valuing creative class and work, alongside first principles around crypto and decentralization. Much of his work at Coinbase was focused on NFTs and stablecoins, both now prescient topics to have focused on at the time and also purpose-designed for mainstream use cases to create digital assets of variable value and transact efficiently.

Many great companies start as a side project

SaintFame was Jacob’s side project, a simple prototype to see what would happen if you created a streetwear fashion house in the form of a DAO. Using Uniswap, a decentralized exchange, to make trading self-directed and -operated, an artist could submit an apparel design and, if they liked it, anyone could buy a token to redeem the piece once it’s made, either in the on-sale or afterward in the trading market. Today, the SaintFame’s long-sleeve printed shirt is now valued at ~$1000 on Uniswap. This was a revelation for Jacob and his future and multi-talented co-founders at Zora, Dee Goens, Slava Kim, and Dai Hovey, all hailing from Coinbase.

decentralize the trading, share with the creator

To sow the initial seeds of a marketplace exchange, Zora enables creators to share their upcoming work, and users can buy and trade pieces instantly. This work can be virtual or physical goods. These goods can be limited edition artwork, apparel, or collectibles. Independent creators have already made and sold these on Zora, in the form of album cassettes, photographic prints, or custom Dunks. Much of the value is programmatically shared back with the creator from each purchase and trade, as the work finds appreciation in the market on a decentralized exchange. Further exploring these notions of participation and balance, the Zora team has now recently shipped one of the first community token projects with a recording music artist, RAC, bringing in the fan as a listening customer, active supporter/patron, and true stakeholder.

Today, Zora’s mission is to rebalance the scale of how creators and artists share and grow with the true believers: their fans and customers. They envision a community-owned marketplace exchange in which creators can not only reap the rewards of popular and economic appreciation by sharing their newest goods and works, but also develop their community by including them in the expression and ownership of the art itself.

the plural of “user” is not “community”

These concepts of decentralization and community ownership in Zora’s vision have similarities in the world of open source software. Zora envisions not only enabling community-owned marketplace for creators and fans, but that, one day, Zora itself can become a decentralized community-owned exchange system. From the book, Open Advice, a passage written by Martin Krötzch in 2012 details an important lesson learned from free open source software:

The plural of “user” is not “community.” While the former may grow in numbers, the latter does not grow by itself, or grows wildly without yielding the hoped-for support for the project. The task of the project maintainer who seeks to benefit from the users’ raw energy therefore resembles that of a gardener who needs to prepare a fertile ground, plant and water the seedlings…

As part of Zora’s vision of a community-owned marketplace, the creator now has the ability to invite their fans to join them in a virtual community which can reward participation and cultivate longer lasting support. Using Zora’s community token model and a decentralized exchange approach guided by pillars of independence, community, and fairness, the creator and their community stand to benefit economically from a new collective ownership layer. If this is interesting to you, then definitely read their manifesto here: https://ourzora.com/manifesto

new definitions for a new generation

At Kindred Ventures, we’re stoked to share that we led their seed round earlier this year and are honored to be supporters of the brilliant Zora team and their mission. We’ve invested previously in marketplaces and exchanges of many categories, such as mobility, delivery, fashion, art/collectibles investing, and crypto, and also are longtime members of creative communities ourselves. So it’s with a deep appreciation and nuanced understanding of creators and marketplaces that we back the Zora team on their worthy mission. We believe that they can break through the notional boundaries of how a marketplace works, and elevate both the creator and the community in positive sum.


steve & kanyi

kindred ventures

we are an early-stage venture capital fund built by founders and operators, based in san francisco, california.

steve jang

Written by

investor, entrepreneur, and true believer. founder/managing partner at @kindredventures.

kindred ventures

we are an early-stage venture capital fund built by founders and operators, based in san francisco, california.